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17. Seal of Solomon Son of Gedaliah

Shlomah bar Gedaliyah Nun-Ayin

Solomon Son of Gedaliah, May He Rest in Eden

Dimensions: 33 mm. Matrix.

Location: French National Library, Paris, Medal Room, no number.

Bibliography: Blanchet, 1889; Blumenkranz, 1965–66, No. 2, 23 (1); Bedos, 1980b, No. 2, 23 (1).

This copper seal is in the form of a quatrefoil built around a square within which is a classic hexagram. At the center of this symbol, now called the Shield of David, is an object which was originally thought to be the facade of a synagogue or of a Jewish quarter. Blumenkranz describes it as a monument composed of three compartments with two small towers at the corners. In terms of armes parlantes, (“speaking arms”—the armorial device “speaks” of the family name), it could even be a fanciful representation of the facade of Solomon’s temple. The outer points of the hexagram are decorated with fleurs-de-lys. In the cusps the Hebrew letters form the inscription, three to each of the four leaves except for the yod as a fourth letter in the third group.

Blanchet points out that this seal is very similar in shape to the reverse of certain gold coins which appeared in France during the second half of the fourteenth century. The form and general design of the seal is also very close to what is probably the best-known and most often reproduced Jewish medieval seal, belonging to Todros Halevi, considered to be the son of the famous Samuel Halevi of Toledo (No. 50). The personal seal of a Spanish Jew deriving from the same period, Abraham son of Moses Crudo (No. 55), is also similar to this one.

There is no information given as to the provenance of this seal, though by general style it would seem to be Spanish rather than French. It does not bear the marks of a French personal seal from Languedoc or Provence, nor does it have the classical simplicity of such seals from northern France and England. Since it is detached from a document, this problem will never be resolved. Gedaliah (or Guedalla) is definitely a Sephardic name, and therefore both style and name point to a Spanish fourteenth-century background. The writer includes this among the French seals simply because the matrix is physically in Paris.

M. Blanchet, following the earlier writings of Adrien de Longpérier, sees a relation between the six-pointed star and the Jewish and Moslem belief that it represents the Sign of Solomon; and since the seal owner’s name was Solomon, he used the hexagram—as the pentagram* was used—to indicate his name, another case of armes parlantes. The same reasoning is employed, as will be shown, regarding the seal of Crescas de Masela, whose father’s name was Solomon and who displayed a five-pointed star in the field of his shield. Regardless of the accuracy of these speculations, we do know that the pentagram and hexagram were used over and over again on medieval Jewish seals from different areas even when the names David and Solomon are not involved.

The six-pointed star or Shield of David, in the writer’s opinion, has more than mere decorative value, and though Gershom Scholem rightly eliminates the Magen David as a generally accepted official Jewish symbol before the nineteenth century, he probably goes too far in saying that it had no religious meaning in earlier days. P. Jean-Baptiste Frey, in a study of Jewish inscriptions dated earlier than the seventh century (1936–52, 1, no. 621), notes a classic Shield of David cut in before the name David on a tombstone engraved in Hebrew from Calabria, Italy. The Merwas Bible, written by Joseph ben Yehuda Merwas at Toledo, Spain, in 1307, has a six-pointed star as illustration. The ceramic tiles of the synagogue of El Tránsito, also in Toledo and constructed about fifty years later, show three hexagrams, one within the other, and the tiles themselves have six sides. In 1391, the year of the Spanish anti-Jewish riots, when the Cortes complained to Dom John I of Portugal that the Jews no longer wore a distinguishing badge, the king ordained that all Jews in his dominion would wear a red star with six points.* The hexagram appeared on a flag of the Prague Jewish community, apparently by official grant from Charles IV, in the mid-fourteenth century. According to a contemporary description, in 1476 the Jewish delegation at Buda, Hungary, which went out to greet King Matthias Corvinus on the occasion of his second marriage, displayed a Jewish flag showing the six-pointed star: this may be the same flag. When Lippold, mint master to Prince Elector Joachim II of Brandenburg (1535–71), struck the coinage for his royal master, he put the hexagram prominently at the top of the reverse of his coins; this was among the accusations against him that led to his being put on the rack and quartered when Joachim II died. A century later, in 1659, Asher Rosi, leaseholder of the mint at Wischau, in Moravia, used the same symbol on coins as his mint mark. He was dismissed as a result. The seal of the Jewish community of Weisskirchen, in Moravia, already known around 1700, showed a lion rampant to the left with his paw touching a classical six-pointed star with a smaller six-pointed rosette within. In these widely scattered cases (other examples could be cited) there was no question but that both Christians and Jews recognized the six-pointed star as a Jewish symbol. The pentagram and hexagram, common to Christians, Jews, and Moslems alike (and shown on many Christian seals as well), had a mystical or cabbalistic religious connotation, with the hexagram being used far more than the pentagram on Jewish medieval seals (for a detailed study of this matter, see Hohertz, 1977).


*Until the eighteenth century, both the pentagram and hexagram were called the Seal of Solomon; it was only in comparatively recent times that the name Shield of David has become specifically associated with the hexagram. The pentagram design was said to have been cut on the bezel of King Solomon’s ring, and the Gnostics claimed that this seal worked miracles (see Budge, 1961).

*This six-pointed star is clearly seen on the robe of the chief rabbi of Portugal, almost directly over the heart, in the Altarpiece of St. Vincent, painted by Nuño Gonçalves in 1460.

*Until the eighteenth century, both the pentagram and hexagram were called the Seal of Solomon; it was only in comparatively recent times that the name Shield of David has become specifically associated with the hexagram. The pentagram design was said to have been cut on the bezel of King Solomon’s ring, and the Gnostics claimed that this seal worked miracles (see Budge, 1961).

*This six-pointed star is clearly seen on the robe of the chief rabbi of Portugal, almost directly over the heart, in the Altarpiece of St. Vincent, painted by Nuño Gonçalves in 1460.

M. Blanchet, following the earlier writings of Adrien de Longpérier, sees a relation between the six-pointed star and the Jewish and Moslem belief that it represents the Sign of Solomon; and since the seal owner’s name was Solomon, he used the hexagram—as the pentagram* was used—to indicate his name, another case of armes parlantes. The same reasoning is employed, as will be shown, regarding the seal of Crescas de Masela, whose father’s name was Solomon and who displayed a five-pointed star in the field of his shield. Regardless of the accuracy of these speculations, we do know that the pentagram and hexagram were used over and over again on medieval Jewish seals from different areas even when the names David and Solomon are not involved.

The six-pointed star or Shield of David, in the writer’s opinion, has more than mere decorative value, and though Gershom Scholem rightly eliminates the Magen David as a generally accepted official Jewish symbol before the nineteenth century, he probably goes too far in saying that it had no religious meaning in earlier days. P. Jean-Baptiste Frey, in a study of Jewish inscriptions dated earlier than the seventh century (1936–52, 1, no. 621), notes a classic Shield of David cut in before the name David on a tombstone engraved in Hebrew from Calabria, Italy. The Merwas Bible, written by Joseph ben Yehuda Merwas at Toledo, Spain, in 1307, has a six-pointed star as illustration. The ceramic tiles of the synagogue of El Tránsito, also in Toledo and constructed about fifty years later, show three hexagrams, one within the other, and the tiles themselves have six sides. In 1391, the year of the Spanish anti-Jewish riots, when the Cortes complained to Dom John I of Portugal that the Jews no longer wore a distinguishing badge, the king ordained that all Jews in his dominion would wear a red star with six points.* The hexagram appeared on a flag of the Prague Jewish community, apparently by official grant from Charles IV, in the mid-fourteenth century. According to a contemporary description, in 1476 the Jewish delegation at Buda, Hungary, which went out to greet King Matthias Corvinus on the occasion of his second marriage, displayed a Jewish flag showing the six-pointed star: this may be the same flag. When Lippold, mint master to Prince Elector Joachim II of Brandenburg (1535–71), struck the coinage for his royal master, he put the hexagram prominently at the top of the reverse of his coins; this was among the accusations against him that led to his being put on the rack and quartered when Joachim II died. A century later, in 1659, Asher Rosi, leaseholder of the mint at Wischau, in Moravia, used the same symbol on coins as his mint mark. He was dismissed as a result. The seal of the Jewish community of Weisskirchen, in Moravia, already known around 1700, showed a lion rampant to the left with his paw touching a classical six-pointed star with a smaller six-pointed rosette within. In these widely scattered cases (other examples could be cited) there was no question but that both Christians and Jews recognized the six-pointed star as a Jewish symbol. The pentagram and hexagram, common to Christians, Jews, and Moslems alike (and shown on many Christian seals as well), had a mystical or cabbalistic religious connotation, with the hexagram being used far more than the pentagram on Jewish medieval seals (for a detailed study of this matter, see Hohertz, 1977).

Additional Information

ISBN
9780814344859
MARC Record
OCLC
1055142843
Pages
68-69
Launched on MUSE
2018-10-02
Open Access
Yes
Creative Commons
CC-BY-NC-SA
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